Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Governor Jindal's war on Public Education and Teachers

Part I Changes in Accountability and School Performance Scores: The ESEA No Child Left Behind proposal sent to the US DOE last week is really a major revision of the Louisiana Accountability System. In my opinion, when combined with the new legislation nullifying tenure, making all professional educators' careers dependent on student test scores, and adding unlimited vouchers and charters, it amounts to accountability on steroids. And just like athletes who misuse steroids to get bigger and stronger, this "miracle" reform plan is likely to produce grotesque and damaging results and side effects.

In addition to setting unscientific and unattainable student achievement goals in a two year period, the ESEA waiver proposal drastically changes the mechanism for calculating school performance scores. (see pages 49 - 61 of the ESEA waiver application). To put it briefly the rating system is changed from a 200 point system to a 150 point system yet the points needed for various letter grades are not reset proportionately. Proportionally the minimum "A" should go from 120 to 90, but the lowest A is set at 100. The new B is 85 to 99.9, the new C is 70 to 84.9, and the new D is 50 to 69.9. The numbers have changed drastically but, not to worry. The Department plans to jury rig the scoring system to end up with just about the same numbers of schools falling in each category of letter grades as with the old system. So this seems to indicate what many suspected all along; that the Department can manipulate the numbers to produce whatever results they choose. For example, there will be a fudge factor in the calculation that will award bonus points for schools that make greater than expected progress with low performing sub groups using the new value added formulas. These are formulas like the Coca-Cola formulas that are kept in a safe that only the statistics gurus at the DOE are allowed to study and adjust.  This whole scheme is a process that looks scientific because of the fancy formulas, but is really pseudo science used to produce a predetermined result. So local school administrators will only know how it works after the results have been determined.

All schools other than A schools will be expected to increase their SPS by 10 points each year (proportionally this would be like 13.3 points on the old system) so that the state can seem to be progressing to 100% proficiency in only two years. This goal will be unattainable for most schools. No one in the field now really knows what sanctions may result from not attaining these goals.

Now lets look at the main thrust of the attack on public education and teachers:
Part II Legislation, MFP, Vouchers and Charters: (See Diane Ravitch's article on the same legislation linked here)
The major campaign against public education began with a drastic change in the MFP last week by the Jindal controlled BESE. According to the new formula, numerous special schools, charters, and voucher schools will now be able to raid the funding from public schools according to the number of students they gain. One major legal concern is that since the private schools will also raid the component of MFP coming from local taxes that the voters may have approved for specific purposes, this may not be allowed by the constitution. Local school Boards along with the LAE and LFT are encouraged to adopt the LSBA resolution to authorize and pursue an immediate legal challenge.

HB 974 and SB 603 which may be heard in the Senate Education Committee in a full day meeting next Thursday, March 15 will be the big push for destruction of job security for all teachers, principals, and even superintendents! When combined with the implementation of the Act 54 evaluation and the accountability changes described above, these bills (they are identical versions of House and Senate bills) will basically make every educators' job dependent on the student achievement of unrealistic academic goals and could demoralize the teaching profession.

The new legislation will immediately eliminate the normal tenure process for any new teachers and nullify tenure for thousands of experienced teachers. Tenure is ended as soon as a teacher gets one ineffective evaluation. Also, the Act 54 evaluation, in the first year of operation, could put thousands teachers on a path to dismissal because of the mandatory 10% failure factor. This number will only grow by thousands each year as the 10% factor is applied again and again. That's because the evaluation plan for teachers described in that ESEA Waiver will mandate that the bottom scoring 10% of  teachers get an evaluation of "ineffective" no matter what local administrators believe about their teachers' effectiveness. This is further complicated by the fact that 66% of  teachers in Louisiana are teaching non-tested subjects. It is not clear if the 10% failure factor will be applied to the teachers of non-tested subjects. No one has figured out a practical and equally rigorous way of applying value added goals to these teachers. But who cares?

The Principal's evaluation will also depend partially on the number of teachers rated "ineffective" and principals will be trapped by a "catch 22" situation. If the principal applies the (COMPASS) in too strict a manner, too many teachers will get "ineffective" and the principal is in trouble. If the principal grades teachers too easy and the value added portion shows up poor or negative for the unique student gains expected of each teacher, then the State Department will send an investigation team out to find out why those teachers are not being properly punished! (I'm just guessing on that part). All indications are that the ACT 54 evaluation will produce many erratic and incorrect teacher evaluation results. How can anyone justify tampering with the job security of professional educators in this frivolous manner? Local school boards will have no more say in these issues than the BESE Board has in dealing with Jindal and White.

My readers are sophisticated intelligent people. You know what will happen if HB 976 and SB 597 (The charter and voucher expansion bills) pass. This will introduce a major conflict between privatization forces and local school boards. The parent trigger provision allows any charter group to attack a low performing school with a petition drive among parents, bypassing local school boards. But the most dangerous provisions are those that will allow BESE to approve new charters and new voucher schools to spring up and cherry pick students from most local school systems to set up schools that have a performance advantage over local public schools. They will also dump out all their low performers to re-enter public schools. This is just like how the New York Yankees used to guarantee success by buying the best talent. All of this will raid the local MFP. In addition, since the charters and private schools do not have to participate in the teacher retirement system, local school boards will be mandated to pay an even greater contribution to the retirement system to offset the loss of employees. (they are now mandated to pay 25% contribution for each employee)

Educators, this is nothing less than an all out attack on public education and the many dedicated educators who have devoted their lives to the welfare  of children. It makes what happened last year in Wisconsin to public education look like childsplay! And what's sad is the Governor's strategists have calculated that the teaching profession in Louisiana is too beat down to fight back! If educators do not go to the capitol on March 15 to tell our legislators how we know this will damage the education of children and ruin many educators' careers we will be partly responsible for the demise of public education in Louisiana.

I will immediately update the information in this blog when we find out more about the legislative agenda for March 15. Please stay informed and be willing to act on a moment's notice.